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Is China a Partner or Predator in Africa (or Both)?

Depending on who you speak with, China’s engagement in Africa is often described in extreme terms as either the best thing to happen to the continent in the post-colonial era or just the latest foreign predator coming to pillage Africa of its resources. With China’s presence in Africa now stretching across nearly all 54 countries where an estimated one million Chinese immigrants now live and hundreds of billions of dollars in annual trade/investment, the relationship between these two regions is extremely complicated.

So when critics want to showcase the negative consequences of China’s presence in Africa there are countless examples of labor abusesillegal logging and wildlife trading, corruption and so on. Furthermore, low-cost Chinese imports are placing huge pressures on African companies who now have to compete at much lower prices. Then there are the human rights concerns where Chinese companies have been accused of exporting equipment used for torture, weapons to unstable countries or technology to repressive governments.

While all of the negatives are true and well-documented (and there are many more), they only tell part of the story. The positive side of Chinese engagement in Africa’s is equally compelling. The fact is that while many people complain about how China’s massive infrastructure building boom in Africa is being built and financed, not to mention concerns about quality, money from some traditional donors in the West is drying up.  African governments really do not have a lot of options when it comes to financing billions of dollars in rather risky infrastructure projects. So the thousands of miles of new rail lines, new digital networkshospitals and ports that are being built would not have happened on anywhere near the scale without the support of the Chinese.

Beijing’s commitment to African infrastructure development is a central part of the government’s “win-win development” agenda, also a key message in its propaganda campaign that emphasizes China’s “peaceful rise” to superpower status.

So is China’s a partner or predator? The short answer, according to numerous leading Sino-African scholars, is that this vast complex relationship is not binary and cannot be reduced to either “good” or “bad.” It is the same in Africa as it is for China’s relations with other regions: “Both approaches offer oversimplified understandings of the complex interaction among the economic, geopolitical, and security dimensions of China’s relations with the rest of the world,” said Dr. Matt Ferchen from the Beijing-based Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in a new paper on the perception gaps surrounding China’s economic and military rise.
Matt joins Eric & Cobus to explain why he thinks views about the Chinese are so polarized in Africa and elsewhere and what impact the Trump revolution in the United States will have on China’s engagement in Africa.

Show Notes:  

About Matt Ferchen:

Matt Ferchen is a resident scholar at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, where he runs the China and the Developing World Program. His research focuses on the governance of China’s urban informal economy, debates about the “China model” of development, and economic and political relations between China and Latin America.
Ferchen is also an associate professor in the Department of International Relations at Tsinghua University, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on international and Chinese political economy as well as on China–Latin America relations.
Ferchen is a Truman and Fulbright-Hays fellow. His work has appeared in numerous publications including the Review of International Political Economy and the Chinese Journal of International Politics. Ferchen has lived, worked, and conducted research in China and Latin America.

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